Friday, May 23, 2008

Information Bias: Bear understanding

This morning I think I understood the concept of "information bias" as it relates to me.

When a news item hits, one is inclined to discard pieces of information that do not fit a preconceived understanding and will readily scan and integrate those that do. Furthermore, one will interpret neutral coverage with "rose/dark tinted lenses" according to disposition and preconceived notions (half full/half empty phenomena).

I always try to keep an open mind to data and news, but this morning I realized I suffer from it. I readily UNDERSTAND a news item that speaks to a conclusion I have already reached. A supporting data point immediately fits the theory and I can grasp its meaning and significance by just scanning the article, I don't need to THINK. For example this morning the FT had coverage on foreclosures increasing the glut and putting more downward pressure on house prices. Typical self-reinforcing feedback loop.

However a data point that does not fit a theory or, worse, contradicts a theory, is not readily understood. For example the actual drop in employment or house prices was too small, and I had to stop and actually think about it. I don't think I discard the information, rather it may be tough to integrate in a broader picture. Since this datapoint is not linked to other memory constructs in our brains. The datapoint is orphaned, devoid of context and meaning. A new mental construct needs to relink that datapoint, a new understanding needs to be developed, and that takes more time, chemically speaking.

Therefore, information bias is not only a reflection of my human vanity in seeking to self-justify my little theories, but also a genuine delay and difficulty in processing information that contradicts said theories.

In conclusion, the information bias, may simply be a reflection of "asymmetric processing of information" in our brains: data that fits is easily and readily assimilated, data that doesn't requires more time and processing. As a result, in a given time period we will see/perceive/understand more datapoints that validate our views than not.

QED. Information bias could be simple corollary of asymmetric processing (reinforced by vanity).

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